Professor Tim Blanning - Frederick the Great
Professor Emeritus, Modern European History – University of Cambridge
Fellow Sidney Sussex College
Fellow British Academy
British Academy Medal, Frederick the Great: King of Prussia - 2016
Joseph II and Enlightened Despotism (Longman, 1970)
The French Revolutionary Wars 1787-1802 (Edward Arnold, 1996)
The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815 (Penguin, 2007)
The Triumph of Music: The Rise of Composers, Musicians and Their Art (2008)
The Romantic Revolution: A History (2011)
Frederick the Great: King of Prussia (Allen Lane, 2015)
George I: The Lucky King (Allen Lane, 2017)
Q: Background / Introduction
A: I’ve always been interested in Germany and German history. I was brought up in an environment where the war was very recent. And of course the discovery of the camps and all the other atrocities committed by Germans. It was a mixture of horror and fascination which drew me to German history.
Q: What does Europe look like when Frederick becomes king in the 18th century?
A: Germany is divided into 300 different territorial principalities Half a dozen dynasties had emerged Frederick when he came to the throne in 1740 he is the third king of Prussia.
Q: Who were the great powers?
A: Perhaps not so different from today, the standout great powers by the time Frederick came to the throne in 1740 were Great Britain, France, Hapsburg Monarchy, Spain, quite important but sliding down the tubes, same for Poland, And of course the great colossus of the east, Russia.
Q: Why was Frederick the Great such a compelling historical figure?
A: He inherited a state which was efficiently administered and well governed and had a large army, 80,000. It was in the second (or third) rank of European powers. And in the course of a quarter of a century from 1740 to 1763 he takes it bang smack into the high table, the first division.
Q: What was Frederick’s lasting legacy?
A: There are several. They can still be felt in Germany and Europe today. He created what is known as “dualism”. By establishing Prussia as a great power he created a German pole inside the Holy Roman Empire for the anti-Hapsburg Monarchy forces.
Q: What was Frederick’s attitudes towards minorities and specially to the Jews?
A: In one respect he was enlightened. He was immersed in the literature of early enlightenment. He turned Prussia into the most tolerant state in Europe. It did not extend to the Jews. He did not expel the Jews but he did tighten the screws. He made it more difficult for Jews to come to Prussia and specifically to Berlin.
Q: Was Frederick’s anti-Jewish attitude the same, or different, from those of his arch rival Maria Theresa?
A: There are some serious differences. Maria Theresa was anti-Semitic in a way Frederick wasn’t. Of course, she was a devout Catholic. And indeed expelled the Jews from Prague.